On a Kannada canvas

Nothing seems to have changed in the day-to-day life of the Bharatanatya artiste, Shubha Dhananjay in the last 30 years, inform her disciples during a practice session. Her days are filled with a plethora of activities. She presides over as chief guest for Ranga Praveshas, judges dance competitions, trains hundreds of school children for mega events like State level Kannada Rajyotsava celebrations, teaches disciples at her own cultural institute Karana, and produces ballets for her dance troupe Natyantaranga, to mention a few.

Shubha is one of the first and very few home-grown Bharatanatya artistes who have made a name for themselves internationally. Soon after her Ranga Pravesha in December 1987, which was attended by the likes of acclaimed art critics such as B.V.K. Shastry, T.B. Narasimhachar and S.N. Chandrashekar, she began performing at various prestigious festivals in India and abroad. All that began three decades ago continues till date in Shubha’s case, be it performing, choreographing, organising or teaching dance. Over the years, Kathak and other classical and folk styles have come into her vast canvas. Today, she is among the few dancers in Karnataka who perform Bharatanatya and Kathak professionally.

  • Shubha Dhananjay is a recipient of many prestigious awards including Dr. Puttaraja Gawai Krupa Bhushana Award, Vishwa Manya Kannadiga, Karnataka Jyoti, Nadaprabhu Sri Kempegowda Award, FCHS Fellowship from Montreal University, Canada.
  • Having performed worldwide including countries like China, US, UK, Maldives, Nepal, Iraq, UAE and Qatar, she was sent to Bali, Indonesia by ICCR to hold an eight-month long training in Bharatanatya.
  • ‘Nritya Shubha Festival’, an international festival of classical dances in the US, is being curated in her name.
  • Her two daughters Maya and Mudra Dhananjay are also budding dancers both in Bharatanatya and Kathak forms.

Soon after her Ranga Pravesha, she presented ‘Kannada Kritigala Bharatanatya Sanje’, an evening of Bharatanatya that comprised dance recitals in Kannada. What was significant about this performance in June 1988 was that it was presented completely in Kannada. “It was my late father Narasimaiah’s desire to have all the items in Kannada. A multilingual himself, he translated a couple of Bharatanatya compositions from Tamil to Kannada. This programme was much appreciated and became a news in those days because nobody had done a whole three-hour long programme in Kannada as most compositions for Bharatanatya dance form are written in Tamil,” she explains. Talking about her doting father she continues, “soon my father wanted me to dance for original Kannada compositions and even began writing sahitya for me. The number of compositions he used to come up with often used to make me think that he loved dance far greater than I did!”

Shubha’s Bharatanatya performances in Kannada caught attention worldwide. She was immediately invited to the World Kannada Meet, Manchester, London when she was barely 18. Shubha also got the lyrics of ‘Snake Dance’, a rare recital in Bharatanatya repertoire that has snake-like agile and continuous movements, translated into Kannada. This coupled with Perini, another rare dance performed over a decorated mud pot, brought her recognition quite early.

She has produced more than a dozen of dance dramas which have been showcased in major literary, cultural and religious festivals such as Kannada Sahitya Sammelana, Mahamastakabhisheka, Hampi Utsava , International Odissi Dance Festival etc. through her performing wing Natyantaranga. Mohini Bhasmasura, Hariharara Milana Ayyappa Janana, Kanmani Krishna, Sri Devi, Narakasura Vadhe, Radha Madhava, Amrutha Manthana, Srinivasa Kalyana, Tippu Sultana, Mahishasura Mardhini, Swatantrya Sambhrama, Skanda Ganapa and Belli Chukki (based on the life of Kittur Rani Chennamma) have been produced by her. Apart from these mythological and historical dance dramas, Shubha has choreographed special ballets including Vachana Vaibhava which comprises vachanas by saint poets such as Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi, Siddarama and Sarvajna, Kuvempu Nrityavali that has a collection of poems by Kuvempu and Narthaki where a dancer’s life is depicted through various classical dance forms of India.

Shubha Dhananjay with (Clockwise from above) her disciples; daughters, Guru Madurai Srinivas and sisters; and her ensemble

Shubha Dhananjay with (Clockwise from above) her disciples; daughters, Guru Madurai Srinivas and sisters; and her ensemble  

“The confidence to do all these came solely because I was trained under gurus who had an authentic lineage. My Bharatanatya guru to whom I owe all my accomplishments, S.V. Srinivas of Madurai, for instance, was a direct disciple of Kattumanar Gudi (Koil) Muttuswami Pillai who was one among the many gurus who helped build Kalakshetra in Chennai upon the request by its founder Rukmini Devi Arundale. When it comes to Kathak, I learnt it from Maya Rao,” says Shubha, who learnt under eminent gurus.

After learning basics in Mysore style from Bhaskar and Pandanallur style from Muralidhar Rao, Shubha made a tour to all major temples in South India including Rameshwaram, Guruvayur, Palani and Madurai. No sooner had the young Shubha Narasimaiah returned from the temple tour than she heard a doorbell. “An old man in a white dhoti and kurta was standing at the door and asked if the house had young sisters who performed Bharatanatya. After the initial enquiry, we got to know that he was a Bharatanatya guru who had moved to Bangalore a few years ago and was looking for children to teach dance. To me, my prayers to have a guru from who I could learn was answered. S.V. Srinivas who taught film stars like Saheeda and Waheeda Rehman and Kamal Hasan became my teacher for seven years.”

Special Arrangement

Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: fr

From then onwards dance was a whole-day affair for Shubha. She would dance from 6.30 in the morning till the time she went to college and would resume in the evening. “More than the change of style to Tanjore school, what Srinivas master looked for was perfection of bhangis, proper completion of theermanas and involvement. We got so engrossed that at times, my parents would not send me to college. On those days, he utilised the whole day to teach me new compositions.”

After pre university, Shubha’s heart desired for a course in dance. But in the eighties dance was hardly recognised as a subject. It was in these years that Maya Rao moved to Bangalore and founded the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography in Malleswaram. “I was extremely thrilled and was among her first batch of students,” she says.

Special Arrangement

Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: fr

Through Diploma in Kathak and Choreography, Shubha was not only introduced to Kathak but most importantly was made to learn various aspects of ensemble production. Recalling an incident, she narrates: “once for an inaugural function I had to perform with a fellow classmate. The performance went well. But we were reprimanded by Maya Didi. We later realised that it was because we had got dressed separately in our respective homes that made us look different. I realised the need and importance of dressing up together. ” There are several other instances she shares about Maya Rao, which according to her made her a better artiste and human being. “If it was not for Maya Didi who not just had the vidwat but also the authority to correct me, I would have turned out to be a frog in a tiny pond,” admits Shubha.

Later Shubha was moulded by Bharatanatya exponent Padma Subrahmanyam whom she met in a workshop. To pay a tribute to her, Shubha invited Padma Subrahmanyam to Belli Gejje which marked 25 years of Shubha’s dancing life in 2005.

What are Shubha’s plans as far as new choreographies are concerned? “A lot,” she quickly responds, adding, “it prompts me to take up spiritual compositions of my father which he composed when I was in the 20s. They make more sense to me now.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 5:15:38 PM |

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